It is indeed a very hard day for him. His wife has left him, and his mother died recently, and his career is tumbled into a big jeopardy, and now he also gets himself into another serious trouble which is going to make the situation far worse than before. Time is running out with increasing pressure on him, and he sometimes falters and trembles in fear and desperation, but he knows too well that he must be ready to do anything for getting out of his messy situation.
This surely sounds like a generic set-up for thriller plot, but South Korean thriller film “A Hard Day” has its own ways to surprise and excite us, and it is fun to see how this solid thriller plays with our expectation while not holding its cards behind its back during most of its running time. Whenever we thinks we are one or two steps ahead of it, the movie surprises us as pulling out unexpected moments of thrill and suspense from its seemingly simple thriller plot, and it gradually turns out to be smarter than expected as following the busy and twisted plight of its corrupt hero.
After his mother’s death, Go Geon-soo(Lee Seon-gyoon) is supposed to receive condolers at his mother’s funeral as her only son, but he has an urgent matter right now, and his mind is more occupied with that matter although he does feel sad about his mother’s passing. He is a detective, and the guys from internal investigations division are already ready to scorch him and his colleagues for taking bribery for years. There is no doubt that Geon-soo and his fellow cops are guilty; a definite evidence exposing their misdemeanors is discovered, and now they all worry about disciplinary punishment to strike them sooner or later, while mulling over whether there is any possible way out for them – or some of them, perhaps.
You may think this situation is pretty bad enough, but then there comes another bad thing Geon-soo happens to crash into. While hurriedly driving his car from the funeral site to his police station, he accidentally hits some guy who suddenly appears on the road. After finding that the guy is dead, he decides to cover his track as far as he can because he fears that this incident can further worsen his situation. He puts the body in the truck of his car, and then he gets a good idea of where he can hide the body.
For not spoiling your entertainment, I will not detail how he hides the body, but I can tell you that the movie gives us a wonderfully suspenseful sequence as he attempts to hide the body within the limited amount of time. He has a rather clever plan for bringing the body to a certain space while not noticed by anyone, but his plan can go wrong at any moment, and the movie keeps tightening the screw in this sequence as his chance is being decreased second by second through actions beyond his control.
When it finally looks like everything will be all right for him, Geon-soo only finds himself in a more difficult situation. He and others get a new assignment, and that turns out to be the search for the very dead guy, who is revealed to be a man with long criminal record. To make the matters worse, someone saw that accident, and he blackmails Geon-soo for some purpose at the same time. He demands Geon-soo that he should retrieve the body and then give it to him in the next morning, and he is not joking at all. He is going to disclose Geon-soo’s deed if Geon-soo does not follow his order, and both know that will be the end of Geon-soo’s career – and his life.
While Geon-soo juggles many balls to avoid getting caught in his increasingly frantic situation, the director/writer Kim Seong-hoon continues to push his story with competent direction as he did during the first part of his film. While his screenplay consists of familiar genre elements, they are efficiently handled to generate the constant forward momentum driving the plot, and the movie is fully focused on building suspense while not wasting too much time on other things. The characterization in the movie is mostly simple, but that works along well with its brisk pacing, and the movie sometimes loosens its strings to allow the sense of wry humor into a few darkly funny moments.
As the center of the movie, Lee Seon-gyoon gives a good lead performance as a man stuck in what is probably the biggest crisis in his life. Geon-soo is not a model cop at all, and the movie does not make any cheap excuse about what he has done, but, thanks to Lee’s engaging performance, we come to sense that he is not a very bad man despite his flaws. The movie does not give much personal information about him except his family he has supported, but we see from him an ordinary man who has probably followed others’ corrupt way without any serious thoughts and then suddenly faces the possibility of paying a very big price for that.
On the opposite, Cho Jin-woong, who has become more notable since his supporting performance in “Nameless Gangster”(2012), is effectively menacing as the villain of the story. From the moment when his coldly aggressive voice is heard on the phone, you can feel a big trouble to come, and I liked the way how the movie eventually reveals his identity at one point for a nice dramatic effect. Jeong Man-sik, who has steadily built his career since his breakthrough turn in “Breathless”(2009), is Geon-soo’s close colleague who begins to sense something suspicious about his friend, and Sin Jeong-Guen is the chief who is as corrupt as his cops, and Shin Dong-mi is Geon-soo’s sister who has no idea about what is happening to her brother thanks to his good covering job.
While it does not have something to elevate it to the level of “The Chaser”(2008), “A Hard Day” is a solid crime thriller which does exactly what it intends to do, and it exceeds my initial low expectation I had when I heard about it. While it has some shaky spots in its plot, I enjoyed its surprise turns even though I predicted at least half of them in advance, and I found that the time passed quickly during my viewing. The people behind the movie really knows how to make a good thriller, and they deserve good marks for that.